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It started as more of a heavy mist than a rain. But there was no mistaking the wind. It came in gusts, battering at our resolve before we had even begun. Each gust came without warning, or rhyme or reason, which made the situation somehow more unpredictable, more grim, like no matter what we did, there was no escaping it. We walked -- or trudged -- the .75 miles to the start, this misbegotten horde of rejects who seemed for better or worse (mostly worse) to be on the outs with society. Trash bags snapped around us, Mylar sheets pulled snug, mismatched sweat suits and tech vests starting to absorb the rain. Even the best among us were likely asking the eternal question, "How the hell did I get here?" And what's more, "Why am I here?" I bit down on the edge of my poncho hood with the desperate hope it would stay in place and keep my head dry even though I would be saturated in minutes. The wind whisked the last remnants of our conversations away, our last words perhaps? I stepped between the barrier and into my corral. The clock read 9:55, and I decided to wait three more minutes to strip down. The announcer (executioner?) did his best to buoy our spirits. I watched the seconds tick down to the unavoidable. I peeled off my poncho, vest, sweatshirt, and long sleeve. The cold started in on me immediately, and I began to shiver and thought, This isn't good. But then crack! The gun. The night before, my friend and I went to our favorite philosopher, Jonathan Beverly, for his insight and perspective: "You have to respect a distance that can reduce you to survival four out of five times, despite the best laid plans and preparation." Addendum: the distance and Mother Nature. We chatted with our coach and modified our race plans as one might do with a forecast for 25mph headwinds. In short, I knew (as I had likely known for days) that my 2:35 would have to wait. We resolved to find an effort that made sense but ultimately agreed to run the race by feel. I channeled my inner Stan Beecham and vowed to get the best out of the day. I'd like to tell you that despite all odds the day came together, that there was a singular moment where I pulled myself together, righted the ship, and, you know, dug deep. But I can't. Because sometimes you put in the work and it's just not the right day for it. But like the badass woman who persevered on Monday said, you have to keep showing up. With that in mind, I can sum the race up fairly quickly. After my initial reaction just before the gun, I started in on myself. You haven't started running yet. Relax and get into the race. And I did. For my first seven miles, the rain remained a light mist, the wind hardly noticeable. So, I settled into sub-2:40 rhythm for as long as I could and felt the miles floating by, the pace and effort coming easily. At seven, the first downpour came and transported me back to my New England college days, when the cold rain seemed denser somehow and could penetrate down to your core and chill your spirit. My singlet clung to me and did nothing to abate the wind that blew right through me as if I was a ghost. I reigned back on the pace to keep from fighting the wind and burning any extra energy, and pulled the bill of my hat down to shield my face. The Wellesley girls managed to get a smile out of me, but only just. I didn't look at my watch again until half where I came through in 1:21. From 13.1-22, I entered into a constant battle of med tent and mile marker. The downpour would come and the wind would stand me up. My teeth chattered and my thoughts fogged. For large stretches, my view of the course was the narrow sliver of road that appeared under my hat brim. The road turned to river. I splashed through puddles, now unavoidable, and managed to spray more water up my calves and into my socks. And just as the med tent would come into view, the rains and wind would slacken and I could continue. I'm not sure why or what was pulling me on. The rains mingled with a few tears because I felt downright miserable and even a little sorry for myself. I remember ditching my gloves at 15 because they were soaked and seemed to be trapping the cold. I made a fist and wrung water out of them. And at 15.1 I regretted it as the wind ate at my now raw, red, and exposed fingers. What could I do but continue putting one soggy foot in front of the other. I soldiered on. Heartbreak (the hill), came and went. Hardly the formidable or momentous moment it usually becomes. At 22, I realized I had just four miles to go, and what was another four at this rate? Hey, you might actually finish this thing. The crowds thickened and spurred me on. Quintessential Boston. Even in the worst of conditions, the crowds still came. They carried me past the Citgo sign and eventually onto Boylston. That finish line never looked so sweet. It was the end of another chapter, another Boston, and also a reason to finally say for sure, it's ok to stop. I crossed in 2:53:59. Empty. I immediately began to shiver and wouldn't stop for another hour despite dry clothing. But after a very long, hot shower, after the cold had left me, and the texts and emails and calls had been answered, I returned to Beverly for one more passage: "I've learned that even when the marathon wins--perhaps especially when it does--we discover truths about ourselves. When all goals are abandoned, when it didn't matter if I walked, crawled, or curled up in the ditch, I found a core that I still cared. I found myself still pushing through the fog toward the finish as fast as my compromised body will allow." And in that I can find solace and peace with this race. It was one to be endured. One where I continued to push my compromised body as far as it would allow. One that deepened the shared camaraderie we already share as runners. One where we had to pry ourselves open to see what was deep inside us and how much our bodies and minds could withstand. As with Bostons past, it would seem quite a lot. And what of this race in particular? Just another waypoint along the journey. Another layer of callus and of opportunity to be put toward the next one. Until then, the number in my head is still 2:35.
It was only supposed to be 10 miles, and easy at that. The wind roared. I could feel our house brace against it, hear the trees bend to it. I pulled the blanket up tighter around my head and let the chill pass through me, rattling my shoulders, before sleep took me again. But not for long. The power had gone out sometime in the middle of the night. Erratic, window-rattling gusts outside had replaced the soothing white noise of our fan inside. I slept light and woke often. When at last it was time to get up, I tottered downstairs – sluggish and heavy from the weeks’ accumulated mileage. Only 10 miles, I thought, pulling on shoes and slipping into a windbreaker. “Bring your phone!” Rachel called from upstairs. “Ok,” I said with reluctance, while rooting through our basket of gear to find the appropriate armband. I took a deep breath and pulled open the front door. I stepped outside and stiffened, but only a strong breeze brushed across my face. Not so bad, I thought, and started off at a trot, dodging the branches, papers, and containers that littered the circle by our house. Something had happened here. Traces of my tempo run from Tuesday still lingered in the tops of my quads as I made the climb to the road. The main drag was eerily still, with the exception of the steady whooshing in the treetops. People had heeded the call to stay inside, and a touch of regret dropped into my stomach. A forecast of sustained 40 mph winds with gusts up to 70mph will do that. Treadmill? I thought. Ten miles on the treadmill? Worth the risk. I pressed on. The air around me suddenly went still, but off in the distance, I could hear the wind gathering. It rushed through the trees behind me first and then was on me all at once – a tidal wave lifting and pushing me forward. I turned my legs over quicker, trying to keep up with the pace, until the wave finally receded. A few miles later, I descended onto the gravel path that wound along the stream. The woods moaned. Bare trees swayed and rocked violently against one another. Sharp breaks cracked the air as boughs strained and then snapped, sending branches crashing onto the trail. My pace quickened. I surveyed the carnage that the storm had delivered in the middle of the night, cognizant that the damage was not done yet. Despite my best efforts to blow through the woods quickly, fallen limbs blocked my path. I emerged from the woods and let my breathing (and my heartbeat) return to normal. When the wind abated, it was just another tired, Friday run and I fell into an easy cadence. I recalled the previous month, the illness, the injury, the lingering illness. And how for the past two weeks, I had finally been able to string together good, consistent training. I kept thinking, If I can just get to March healthy…. And here I was, the wind washing clean the stains of the month prior. I retraced my steps down the backstretch of where I had tempoed on Tuesday – albeit at a much slower clip now – buoyed by the optimism of how good my legs and lungs felt finally working together. I made the turn for home. The world was black and white. Steely clouds raced across the sky. Debris tornadoes spun up suddenly – leaves, wrappers, and paper caught in the vortex – and just as quickly fell apart. Errant snowflakes whipped by. Chaos reigned. A bad trip. The wave of wind that rushed behind me on the way out was now a wall I had smashed full on into. I strained against the blow. My hat flirted with abandoning me, but I pulled it down hard again. I relaxed against the invisible force pushing me back, feeling myself lifted with every footfall. When it would suddenly relent, I surged forward, gaining as much ground as possible. I returned to the circle and began the slow walk back to the house, relieved and invigorated. As I unlaced my shoes, I kept reciting Hemingway in my head, “None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head.”